Holy Monday: Jesus and the Second Provocative Public Protest

moneychangersScarsellinoMy Palm Sunday blog featured the work of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book The Last Week. They gave us the insight of two processions coming into Jerusalem that day: Jesus’ procession proclaiming the Kingdom of God and peace and the procession of Pontius Pilate emblematic of  Roman might, and power and occupation achieved by violence. Jesus’ ride down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem was a deliberate, provocative, political demonstration against the ruling powers. His protest was against an oppressive, unjust domination system that was legitimized by the religious establishment in collaboration with the occupying Roman army. Borg and Crossan ask the profound questions: “The same question, the same alternative, faces those who would be faithful to Jesus today. Which procession are we in? Which procession to we want to be in?”

On Monday of Holy Week, Jesus enters the Temple in Jerusalem and performs another provocative act, often called the Purification of the Temple. In Mark 11:12-19 the story of Jesus “cleansing the Temple” is told. And in this passage Jesus quotes Jeremiah, saying that what was supposed to be a house of prayer has become “a den of robbers.”

In The Last Week the point is made that the thievery is not from the money-changers and those selling animals for sacred sacrifice. It is that the injustice of  the people who are  the elite, the temple leaders the oligarchy who benefit from the domination system think “the temple is their safe house, den, hideaway, or place of security. The temple is not the place where the robbery occurs, but the place the robbers go for refuge.”

This discussion of Holy Monday is presented in a blog by Borg in Patheos, which can read in its entirety here.

The essence of it follows:

Rather, Jesus’s act was an indictment, a public protest, against what the temple had become. In words that echo Jeremiah 7.11, it had become “a den of robbers,” a robber’s cave, a center of injustice and complacent affirmation of God, as the fuller context of Jeremiah 7.1-11 makes clear.

So it was in the time of Jesus: the Roman governor ruled Judea through the temple authorities whom he appointed. So long as they collaborated with Roman authority, they remained in office.

That is what had turned the temple into “a den of robbers.” Because of the collaboration of temple authorities with Roman rule, it had become the center of an economically exploitative domination system and thus a center of injustice, as in the time of Jeremiah six centuries earlier. That was not what it was meant to be.

What is involved for Jesus in these twin, preplanned, symbolic,  political demonstrations, is an absolute criticism not only of violent domination, but of any religious collaboration with it. [from The Last Week, page 53]

The authorities understood that Jesus’s protest and indictment were directed against them. It was too much. As Mark tells the story, it was the last straw. They decide that Jesus must be killed: “When the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.” Before the end of the week, they and the Roman governor find a way to do so.

Why did Good Friday happen? Because it was the will of God? Or because Jesus in the name of God publicly denounced and defied the domination system of his day? The historical answer is clear.

God insisted on justice (distributive and restorative, not retributive) over worship. See Micah 6:6-8 :

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

I have personally heard Marcus Borg speak of God’s character in this way: “Why is the God of the Bible passionate about justice (as defined above) and peace? Because the greatest sources of unnecessary human misery are economic injustice and war.”

Something to think about this Holy Week. Especially since we are the new Roman empire , with vast wealth and power.

Perhaps in future posts this week we will talk about the meaning of the cross as Borg sees it and discuss Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory.DSC_5649

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